A/N- The other day my muse came up and whacked me upside the head. My muse is terribly rude and brutal. She comes and goes at will, leaves my readers hanging for months on end. Heck, I just realized I haven't updated this in a year! *Hides head in shame for five seconds* OK! On with the story. And my usual bow of thanks to Aea for beta-ing ^_^
"Orsino, have you finished warm-ups?"
The Armadillos look up from the stretches their team-captain has been leading while waiting on the coach to arrive.
"Orsino, why is your arm blue?"
"Broke my pen, Coach."
Duke endures the look his coach gives him until the man takes a deep breath, adjusts his hat, and moves on.
"Here at Illyria we want to provide boys and girls equal opportunity on the playing field." Coach Dinklage pauses so he can glower at every member of his team. He also gives the distant, yet large, audience a menacing stare. The man knew there would be gawkers and can only hope they will bore quickly. His team needs to focus on improving their soccer skills and teamwork, not on the drama-bomb that his only female player has dropped. Dinklage adjusts his cap and continues his mini-speech.
"Hastings is still part of this team. Nothing has changed except that she will be using the women's locker room. Do I make myself clear?"
Heads nod around the group, not a few cast surreptitious glances at the only female on the team.
"DO YOU UNDERSTAND, YOU MEATHEADS?"
"Now give me fifty crunches. We have a lot of work to do before the Cornwall game."
Illyria's star soccer team drops to the muddy earth without hesitation.
Viola reaches her fiftieth, takes a glance around and sees more than half the team still at it. Several players, mostly second-stringers, are already sweating and panting heavily. She hides her smile, not wanting Coach to see it.
"Hurry up, you pansies, we don't have all day."
Viola continues her efforts, Duke had taught her that the coach expects everyone to keep going even after they reach the goal. 'It's what makes the first-string stand out,' he said. Darn Coach Pistonek, I want to kick that jerk. Justin too, the ass. Duke, will you give me another chance? Her smile disappears. She drives the roiling emotions away with frantic effort.
The whistle screeches.
"Seventy-one," she breathes.
Everyone gets into position.
"How many, Coach?" Toby ventures to ask.
"How many crunches did you do?"
She hesitates. A glance at Coach's face inspires her to honesty. "Seventy-one."
Someone scoffs. Coach glares around.
"Orsino, how many did you complete?"
Viola's eyes widen at Duke's admission. I did more than him. That's. I. Whoa.
"Push-ups until Hastings collapses."
I don't need them to hate me any more than they probably already do, Coach. Come on, show a little compassion?
"If any of you nancy-boys can't keep up with her, then we will spend the rest of the afternoon with jump ropes."
Horrified looks and hateful glares at Viola follow his announcement.
"What are you waiting for? BEGIN!"
He hates me.
"Yes, Coach?" She squeaks.
"Call out your count."
Oh, crap. I hope Mom has a good life insurance policy on me.
"Three. Four. Five. Six . . ."
Viola can feel the glares of her teammates trying to burn holes through her skull. She grits her teeth for a moment before sounding out again.
Pacing herself, she keeps the count steady. "Eighteen, nineteen, twenty . . ."
She can see the coach's feet moving around the field, sporadically dropping to do push-ups and glare into the face of someone slacking.
"Thirty-six, thirty-seven . . ."
Dinklage yells his usual cocktail of encouragements and insults.
"Fifty-three, fifty-four . . ."
Viola can feel her upper body start to throb.
"Sixty-one, sixt . . ."
"What do you think you're doing? Why are you stopping?"
"M-my a-a-rms," someone rasps out, "th-they burn, Coach."
Viola turns her head to see who. Almost at the same time, the rest of second string stops moving. Sweat soaks their muddy uniforms. And that's why they are still second string. She thinks proudly of herself.
Distracted, the twin forgets to count out loud.
"Then I guess you get to start running. Now!"
Oh, no. Please, no. I like living.
"The rest of you," Coach hollers. "Keep going!"
No one bothers to object.
What?! At least, not object vocally. Are you kidding me? But you said . . .
"What's your count?"
Um, seventy? "Seventy!"
"Come on, you lazy twits, keep up!"
Fire ignites in her arms and chest. It burns. Although she cannot see it, her coach grins the tiniest bit at her. His eyes scan the rest of her team.
Long ago, Viola's count became barely audible. The coach pauses occasionally to watch her mouth move. He nods and moves on to yell at another quitter.
"Seventy-six, seventy-seven . . ." Well I'm already screwed anyway. I am so not giving up now. I'm not dropping until Duke does.
"Eighty-two . . ." Four more players give up and begin running even as the coach screams at them.
Did I mention it burns? If my shoulders fall off I wonder if the doctors can give me new ones. Viola looks over at Duke. The captain's hands, knees, and backside are covered in muck. Sweat drips from his face. He glances over. For a moment, Viola's world stops, the intensity of emotions in Duke's eyes is heart-stopping.
Viola gasps. "Eighty-five . . ."
Duke closes his eyes for a moment and clenches his jaw. Viola vaguely hears the coach yelling at others who have succumbed. When Duke's eyes reopen, the emotional hurricane is gone. The twin only recognizes his usual competitive determination. She mentally heaves a sigh of relief, she knows what that look means. He's not going to let anything change, at least, on the field. I won't let him down.
"Eighty-eight . . ." Keep going, Vi, just keep going.
"Ninety . . ." Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow.
"Ninety-three . . ."
Viola peeks at Duke again. The sweat pores from his body, yet he does not look about to drop any time soon. The guy has stamina, that's for sure. Owwww.
"Ninety-seven." Come on, just three more at least!
"Ninety-eight." I'm going to find out if spontaneous combustion is real.
"Ninety-nine." One. More.
"One," the teen struggles to extend her arms. "H-hun . . ." COME ON!
"One-hundred." She gasps out.
Viola collapses, facing her team-captain. "Ow." She mutters.
Duke looks over. He notices that Viola has finally stopped. Very carefully, he keeps his expression neutral and looks around. Five others are still in motion. He continues the exercise, waiting for coach to end it.
"Coach?" She responds from her prone position watching Duke still going. I guess he kicked my butt. Now I know why he's got such nice shoulders. Man's a machine.
"What was the count?"
"Orsino, lead them in sprints."
"Yes, coach." Duke leaps up and calls his team to position.
"Second stringers go get the ropes." Having already been running for several laps, the boys almost grin. Almost.
Over the next two hours Dinklage has his team alternating between arduous exercises and skill building. At one point Toby has the audacity to ask, "Coach, we gonna actually play today?"
Coach blows his whistle. "Dribble and pass. NOW!"
Another punishing hour passes and Dinklage calls out, "Orsino, stretch them out. Morning practice is at six!"
Coach Dinklage is very good at keeping people so busy they do not have time to think.
"I can't believe this!" Malcolm cries, pacing in his dorm. "Why is she acting like this? Her smile is strained, her words are too polite, and her eyes, those beautiful blue eyes are so sad. She should be trying to kill that annoying Hastings girl, not make nice." He flops on his bed and strokes the face of Olivia on his pillow. "Oh, my love, you truly are a rare and beautiful flower." His puckered lips brush the fabric and he smiles. "I will help you show the world your true feelings. Perhaps when you learn of my part in these strange events, you shall see me as I really am, your . . ."
BANG! BANG! BANG!
"Feces! Someone clogged up a toilet with a giant load and it's overflowing. Call the janitor or something."
"Gallant prince," he mutters, then louder. "My door is not a punching bag!"
"Hurry up, it fuckin reeks."
"Oh the glory of life as Dorm Director."
Viola groans. The girls' track team is making its way to the locker room."So much for a quiet shower," she mutters.
She casts a glance at the guys, almost wishing she was one of them still. Toby and Andrew wave, Duke frowns and looks away. Game plan: don't make eye contact, grab my stuff, run into shower, don't make eye contact, throw on pants and hoodie, and don't make eye contact.
Two gossips notice Viola heading their way. They make little gestures and their mouths start going a mile a minute.
Ah, screw this. I'm not gonna let them intimidate me. I don't care what they think about me. Her lips twist into a wicked smile. That's Tish, the Queen Bitch, and Lillian. I remember when I was 'Sebastian' they'd always offer to take me out. I think that I'm just going to have some fun with anyone who wants to try and mess with me or mine. Let's just think of this as pre-game warm-ups for when I see Justin again. New game plan: waltz in, say hi, grab my junk, take my shower, and keep my composure when they stare at me. Darn Justin. I've got to call Paul tonight.
Suddenly, the door is before her. The gossipers are already inside. Viola puts on a confidant smile and opens the door. Noise from lockers opening and shutting, water running, and girls talking surrounds her. She walks in.
Within two seconds a single hush is passed on. The locker room goes silent. Dozens of eyes focus on the infamous Hastings girl. Viola makes her way to her locker, smiling at familiar faces and doing her best to ignore others. It's just like the field where the other team tries their best death glare on us. Ignore them. She almost stumbles upon hearing a particularly nasty whisper. Evil and un-called for! No, don't look at her. Don't acknowledge her. This stuff isn't going away overnight. Behind her, a trail of mud and gossip springs up.
"Is that her? Hastings?"
"Ew, why is that in here?"
"She totally flashed the entire soccer team during practice!"
"Why is she still here? How come she didn't go back to Cornwall?"
"Who does she think she is?"
"Can you believe what she did?"
"Do you think her brother is as weird as she is?"
"Is she a lezzie?"
"She's kinda hot. Think she's single?"
Viola blushes. I expected the gay comments, but to attract lesbians? I, uh, well, that's new. Definitely got to call Paul.
Locker number eight finally stands in front of the brunette. There are three other girls in the aisle with her, tightly huddled together. At the same time they glance at Viola, and then turn back to each other to whisper, loudly. The twin does her best to ignore them and begins to turn the lock's dial. She gets the sequence correct and opens the door before the conversation reaches her ears.
"Did you hear the rumor about her ex at that party?"
Viola's hand grips her locker door tightly. Did you have to remind me?
"Think it's true?"
She stares inside, barely seeing the contents. Don't you know what killed the cat?
"Can you see any bruises? Her face is all muddy, I can't tell."
Her knuckles turn white. Gossip-whores.
"She probably deserved it." I recognize that voice. Viola is ready to tear someone's pretty little face off. She did not just say that.
"Dirty little dyke was probably cheating on her ex with that Lennox bitch."
Viola's eyes flame with hatred. Whoever is cheap enough to call Olivia something other than sweet and gentle deserves my cleats up their ass. The emotional brunette whips around to start a fight.
SMACK. Her head collides with someone else.
"Ow! My head! Eunice, I told you not to sneak up on me."
"My locker is next to yours."
"Oh, right. You're on the track team."
"I hold the state title and record for the 4k run."
"For the last three years. You look upset."
"Is it because of what those dirty skanks were talking about?"
"Uh. I, uh, skanks?"
Viola glances over to the skanks in question. They look appalled, but whether it's because they are caught gossiping or that Viola and Eunice are looking at them, is uncertain. "Aren't they your teammates?" She asks.
"Yes. Tish, Emily, and Jessica compete in the heptathlon. Tish excels with shot put, and Emily with the javelin throw. Jessica is terrible."
"Right." The bewildering encounter with Eunice is enough to cool her anger. She grabs her things and shuts her locker. "I'm gonna shower. See you later."
Directing a cold stare at the Queen Bitch and her two subjects, she vows to kick their skinny butts if they ever try messing with her or her friends. Viola heads to the stalls to wash the mud and sweat away. Gotta watch out for those girls. They could be more than evil gossipers. I can't believe they'd say something like that about Liv. That's just so wrong on so many levels. Seriously! She is the nicest person I've ever met.
Cold water blasts her skin. COLD. Turn the hot knob too, Idiot. As the water's temperature becomes bearable, she continues her musing.
Anyone who handles Malcolm the way she does deserves something named after them, not people saying mean things. Hell, anyone who handles me, the way she is, after what I did, deserves a freaking Medal of Honor. Note to self: text Liv and tell her thank-you for being so amazing. Maybe I should apologize again, too? I'll ask Paul first. He'll know what to do. He always does.
Conversations around Viola make her sigh. At least the girls' showers all have a privacy curtain. Wow, the guys really get the short end of the stick. Maybe I'll use what little leverage I've got with Gold to say something about it. Or I could use it as blackmail material if Andrew does something stupid. She snickers.
I love that guy. He's even more gullible than I am. And that's saying something. Ugh, I wonder how long 'Topic of the Day' will cease to be me. Okaaaay. That conversation is definitely not about me. There they go talking about Olivia again. What the hell is the CTGGF and why is her mom part of it? She wants to do WHAT with Duke? Oh man, Duke.
Viola leans her head against the cool tile wall. I really hope he starts talking to me again. At least it seems like he's going to treat me just like anyone else on the field. He's a really great captain. He'd be a really great boyfriend too. The guy has his own brand of sweet and gentle. If I'm going to get him, I'm going to have to work even harder. Soccer is going to be my only way to prove myself around here. She takes a deep breath to clear her mind. I'm so done in here, eavesdropping is driving me nuts. I shouldn't think this hard.
Water ceases to spray and she grabs her towel. Quickly, Viola wipes down and rubs her hair. She applies her normal toiletries and throws on some sweat pants and hoodie. After bundling her things together, she pulls her hood up. Incident-free, she moves hurriedly to her locker and then the door.
"Malvolio, I'll be right back. I know, I promised you a special treat, but I haven't had time to stop at the pet store."
The tarantula rears up on its legs.
"Don't look at me that way. Come on. I tell you what, if I find a mouse on campus, I'll catch it for you. OK?"
Hairy legs tap the glass of the terrarium. It turns around and crawls under its piece of wood.
"Don't hate me."
The fist returns to pound on the door.
"FECES! Get your butt out here!"
Olivia reads the elapsed time on her cell's screen. Fifty-six minutes. Sighing, she lets it drop to her bed. The screen switches to current time. Eight twenty.
Julia returns from the showers wrapped in a robe. She puts her toiletries away, takes one look at her roommate's face, and gathers the blonde in her arms.
"I hate my mother. I shouldn't have even called her back." Olivia whimpers.
"What did she say?"
"That I better have a date for her dinner party."
Sniffle. "And that we would further discuss my relationship with the Hastings family later."
"That took almost an hour?"
"She also interrogated me on the past few weeks. Whether I knew about Viola's unacceptable behavior, where Sebastian is, basically who I spend my time with. She raged on about the depravities of the world today. Then she made me promise to be at her dinner party with an acceptable date and how we will continue our discussion about her afterward."
Her best friend does not need to ask whom she is.
"Shit. Who is it now?"
Julia picks up the phone and checks the caller ID. "It's says Duke, Livie."
"I don't. No. Wait. Duke?"
The blonde wipes at her teary eyes. "Give it here." Sniff. "Please."
"Why do you have his number?"
"That date at Cesario's."
"Oh. Right." Julia passes the phone.
"Yes, I'm fine, Duke."
"I couldn't agree more. She is bold to say the least."
"I heard. Are you going to do anything about it?"
"Coffee sounds terrific, but not tonight. Too much homework."
"Thursday, no I'm sorry, I have to go to my mother's. Wait . . . Duke, do you remember what organization my mother belongs to? Besides Junior League and her Pilates group."
"Yes. That one."
"It is disgusting. Do you remember that rumor in middle school about Angelina Forst?"
"Yes. It was true and it was with me."
"I would rather not discuss that over the phone."
"Duke, I need your help. Please."
"I need a boyfriend."
"Oh, my God. What was that guy eating? Corn?"
Malcolm fishes his phone from his pocket and presses speed dial number four.
"Good evening, Malcolm Festes calling. I'm terribly sorry, but this is pretty much an emergency. Could you come to my dorm building? The facilities may need a plumber."
Other male students crowd the hallway behind him, curious as to what the disgusting odor is.
"Are those intact shrimp tales?! Who eats like this?"
A/N - Eh? What was that? You wanted to tell me how emotional that made you? Or bored, hungry, etc... lol
Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans and a generally happy day for the rest of you :)